Ghosts Amongst Us: Obama’s Legacy of Trauma

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A crisp, nascent autumn breeze whistles through the air. A young girl, of 5-years-old, waits with her mother for the school bus to whisk her away to her first-ever day of school.

She is nervous, not wanting to leave the comfortable confines of her home, where her parents have doted on her from since she can remember.

“When will daddy be back?”, the girl asks her mother. “He went home. Don’t worry, honey, he will be back soon.”, the mother says, fighting back tears in a futile effort to shield her daughter from the truth, a truth that is cutting her up inside: her father is gone, perhaps forever.

This young family of three was achieving the dream that so many associate with the United States of America: food on the table, a small but well-kept house, and a supreme confidence that no goal is too far out of reach.

The dream suffered a fatal blow when the girl’s father was deported to Honduras just a few weeks ago.

The Stunning Hypocrisy of the Obama Administration         

With the 2012 presidential elections imminent, President Obama’s approval rating has plummeted precipitously, dropping to a lowly 38 % as recently as August of this year. When Obama was first elected, he consistently promised he would pass immigration reform. This likely helped him get elected, as many Latinos voted for precisely because of these promises.

According a pew report, 67% of  Hispanic voters cast their ballot for Obama in the 2008 presidential elections. And these votes were important to his eventual victory.

Shortly after the election, a NY Times article stated that:

“Latino voters shifted in huge numbers away from Republicans to vote for Senator Barack Obama…providing the votes that gave him unexpectedly large margins of victory in three battleground states: Colorado, New Mexico, and Nevada.”

So far, Barack Obama has done nothing to fulfill the promises he made in 2008. Rather, he has arguably done the opposite: under his watch, immigrants have been deported in record numbers. His explanation up until recently has revealed a man who is stunningly transparent in revealing why what he says does not comport with what he does.

When pressed on why no reform has been passed, Mr. Obama delivers the predictable: “I can’t do it by myself. We’re going to have to change the laws of Congress.” The latter admission of defeat is in sharp contrast to his oft-flowery rhetoric:

Comprehensive immigration reform is not only an economic imperative or a security imperative, it is also a moral imperative. (emphasis added)

Voting Time

The 2012 Presidential Elections are upon us, and the Obama Administration has made a public about-face on whether only Congress can stop deportations.

First, on June 17, 2011, the director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) issued an internal memorandum listing various factors that should be considered in deciding whether to exercise prosecutorial discretion. In other words, when not to deport an immigrant, even if ICE is legally able to do so.

Specifically, the memo addressed several stages of immigration enforcement, including when to deport an immigrant who already has an order and when to put an immigrant into deportation proceedings before the immigration court.

Second, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued a public announcement via a letter Janet Napolitano wrote to Senator Dick Durbin, stating that the factors enumerated in the June 17 memorandum were already being implemented. Importantly, the letter stated:

Together with the Department of Justice (DOJ), we have initiated an inter-agency working group to a case-by-case review of all individuals currently in removal proceedings to ensure that they constitute our highest priorities.

In this same letter, Secretary Napolitano added: “the working group will issue guidance on how to provide for appropriate discretionary consideration to be given to compelling cases involving a final order of removal.”

These two announcements conflict with what reality is for many immigrants, particularly those who have been here for many years but have final orders of removal.

The Immigration Police: Blind Enforcement

Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) is the branch of ICE that executes final orders of removal. Once an immigrant is detained, ERO will immediately begin the process of deportation. Consulate visits, a travel document, and a charter flight back. All within a couple of weeks, sometimes even sooner.

Without an attorney (extremely expensive, given that substantial time is required to try to stop a deportation at this stage), ERO will rarely exercise discretion; the only time that it will is if a woman is pregnant, or the immigrant is the sole caretaker of a child, or if a child is seriously ill.

Notwithstanding the latter examples, ERO will deport anyone with a final order, criminal history or not.

I have personally seen several examples of immigrants being deported, even though they had extraordinary equities in their favor. What are these equities? One such example: Many have several U.S. citizen children; presence in the United States for over 10 years; and no criminal history. Yet this matters naught to ERO. There is no “prioritizing” of whether an immigrant will be deported once placed in the custody of ERO. It’s a machine.

“We get them in, and we deport them. Sorry, nothing we can do.”, one such officer commented to me.

From my own experience, there has been no discernible difference between whether the Obama administration’s announcement has made a change in immigration enforcement policy.

In removal proceedings, when an immigrant is still before an judge, discretion will and has been exercised, but whether this is a change from the past is not clear.

What is clear is that at the ERO level business is as brisk as usual.

It is of no import to the “moral imperative” touting Barack Obama that an agency under his control has and continues to leave an indelible legacy of trauma upon thousands of families.

In the end, as it so often is in the United States, the moral is superseded by the irrepressible need for our “leaders” to wrestle for the reins of power at the expense of human lives.

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